Wim Wenders Explains How Polaroid Photos Ignite His Creative Process and Help Him Capture a Deeper Kind of Truth

Wim Wen­ders began his pro­lif­ic fea­ture film­mak­ing career in 1970, and near­ly half a cen­tu­ry lat­er — hav­ing direct­ed such cinephile favorites as Alice in the CitiesThe Amer­i­can FriendParis, Texas, and Wings of Desire along the way — he shows no signs of slow­ing down. Known for his col­lab­o­ra­tion with cin­e­matog­ra­phers, and with Rob­by Müller in par­tic­u­lar, Wen­ders has worked in every­thing from black-and-white 16-mil­lime­ter film, when he first start­ed out, to dig­i­tal 3D, which he’s spent recent years putting to a vari­ety of cin­e­mat­ic ends. But we can trace all of his visions back, in one way or anoth­er, to the hum­ble Polaroid instant cam­era.

“Every movie starts with a cer­tain idea,” says Wen­ders in the short “Pho­tog­ra­phers in Focus” video above, and the Polaroid was just a col­lec­tion of con­stant ideas.” The auteur speaks over images of some of the Polaroids he’s tak­en through­out his life, relat­ing his his­to­ry with the medi­um.

“My very first Polaroid cam­era was a very sim­ple one. Mid-six­ties. I was 20, and I used Polaroid cam­eras exclu­sive­ly until I was about 35 or so. Most of them I gave away, because when you took Polaroids, peo­ple were always greedy and want­ed them because it was an object, it was a sin­gu­lar thing.”

Wen­ders describes his Polaroids as “very insight­ful into the process of my first six, sev­en movies, all the movies I did through the sev­en­ties,” the era in which he mas­tered the form of the road movie first in his native Ger­many, then in the much-mythol­o­gized Unit­ed States. He not only shot Polaroids in prepa­ra­tion, but dur­ing pro­duc­tion, snap­ping them casu­al­ly, much as one would on a gen­uine road trip. “Polaroids were nev­er so exact about the fram­ing. You did­n’t real­ly care about that. It was about the imme­di­a­cy of it. It’s almost a sub­con­scious act, and then it became some­thing real. That makes it such a win­dow into your soul as well.” Polaroid pho­tographs, as Wen­ders sees them, cap­ture a deep­er kind of truth. It’s no sur­prise, then, even in age of the 3D dig­i­tal cam­era, to see them mak­ing a come­back.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wim Wen­ders Reveals His Rules of Cin­e­ma Per­fec­tion

The Mas­ter­ful Polaroid Pic­tures Tak­en by Film­mak­er Andrei Tarkovsky

Watch Lau­rence Olivi­er, Liv Ull­mann and Christo­pher Plummer’s Clas­sic Polaroid Ads

Gun Nut William S. Bur­roughs & Gonzo Illus­tra­tor Ralph Stead­man Make Polaroid Por­traits Togeth­er

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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